Custom bass... questions

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by newbass, Feb 10, 2004.

  1. newbass


    Mar 18, 2002
    Austin, Texas
    Hello all! It's been awhile since I last posted, but I still have the same dilemma that I had back then, with a difference now. I want to build a custom bass (well not build it myself, but have my friend, who is a wonderful luthier build it), and I'm not sure what specific details I want, thats where you come in .

    I'll start by giving you some vague idea of the type of sound I want, and what few specifics I know so far.

    *Six strings-seems like the perfect number to me.
    *Powerful, yet not too "rockish" in the low end- I guess that would mean not too midrangey? (btw please give any suggestions for woods and pickups that would help my sound)
    *Basically clear, basic, balanced tone throughout (I know I'm asking a lot , but please help)
    *At least 24 frets, I like to chord and solo(Jaco only needed a 18 or so fret 4-string )
    *Darker, rich (looking) tone woods, my friend can get good stuff, cheap (koa, Braz. rosewood!!!)
    *I like the idea of a solid, Anthony Jackson-esque single-cut (I LOVE his tone on Triangulo and Calle 54)
    *Most likely 36" scale length (no physical hand stretching problems, so unless this totally ruins the upper range (please comment on this), I'm decided)
    *I like the idea of really solid yet basic tone (again single pick-up like AJ perhaps). What is the sweet spot? I really don't know that much about electronics.
    *Neck Through (more sustain, right?)

    Thank you very much for putting up with my questions and tedious stat spewing!

    Please reply ASAP, and I will be ever so thankful!!!
  2. NV43345


    Apr 1, 2003
    If it was me, I would go Fretless above the 12th Fret.
    And go with Black hardware and accessible battery compartment. And a Active/Pasive switch. :)
  3. BoiNtC


    Nov 25, 2002
    NYC, USA
  4. I'm no expert, but since you want opinions, I'll dispense mine. :D

    Number of strings - this is up to you. I'd go with 5.

    Powerful, yet not too rockish - I'd say go with either alder or ash with some kind of a top, but this you should discuss at length with your luthier. Many others will give their opinions here. I like ash.

    Clear and balanced tone - Some kind of a humbucker. I can't stand single coils, and their attendant hum.

    24 frets - I would insist on this. I myself would not get more.

    Fretted - Absolutely! Unless you are 100% sure you want TO BUILD a fretless, get frets!

    Tone woods - I don't know enough to be an authority. Discuss with luthier.

    Single cut - This is up to you. They really don't float my boat.

    Scale - Completely up to you. I'd go 35.

    Single pickup? - Definitely! I'm a big fan of single pup basses, and the simplicity they offer.

    Sweet spot? We recently had a discussion on this, with many people believing there is no one *SWEET SPOT* If you want my opinion, have one pickup located between 3 1/2 to 4" from the G string saddle. A Musicman Stingray is about 3 1/2" from the G saddle, and I have an Ibanez that's 4". The tone here is not too bright, while being not too mushy, IMHO. It's like the porridge Goldie Locks ate that was just right! :D

    Neck through? - Yes.

    As for preamps, and/or EQ, others will chime in with good ideas.

    Here's the sweet spot thread:

    If I were going to build a custom bass, that's how I'd design it.

    Good luck.

    Let us know what you decide.

    Mike ;)
  5. newbass


    Mar 18, 2002
    Austin, Texas
    Thanks for all the help (especially the sweet spot thing). I have decided that it will be a six string, fretted, anthony jackson style (not copycat however, for legal ramifications). However, I would still like to know about 36" experiences, tone woods, and a little more about the sweet spot , if you would like to help. Thanks again!!!
  6. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Pickup...just MM from Bartolini or Kent Armstrong, placed approx 10 mm nearer the neck than usual, would be an interesting alternative. Whether it suits you, I have no clue.

    Woods: alder, certainly; koa, sure; ash, well swampash, then; walnut and cherry, yep, that's it! Walnut on the bass side, and cherry on treble. Perhaps, but not necesarily a top...of flame birch!
  7. GooseYArd

    GooseYArd Guest

    May 15, 2003
    Hi newbass,

    A while back I ordered a Nordstrand SC6 with a number of parameters stolen from the AJ pres. bass. The body on those instruments, at least the recent ones, is alder, and I purchased a redwood top, which is also common on the AJs, although it is not carved. The neck is maple and the fingerboard is cocobolo. The wood combinations on those Foderas seem to vary quite a lot so I'm not sure that you could pin his sound to a particular species.

    It doesn't look much like an AJ pres bass- I had already gotten a crush on these Nordstrands and decided to get one before I had started to think about the question of how the electronics would be set up, and that was when I had to start thinking about whos sound I admired and what components of that were worth copying.

    Here's a photo of the finished product:

    <IMG SRC="">

    I was also interested in using a single magnetic pickup, because I enjoy the sounds of AJ's and also Lincoln Goines' basses so much. Lincoln Goines pickup is positioned closer to the bridge, and it seems to affect the tone very much like adjusting the balance of a two pickup bass to favor the bridge pickup, making the timbre a little more jaco-y, whereas AJ has more of a neck-pickupy timbre. I favored the bridge pickup a little more, so I fooled around and made some measurements and arrived at a value that was kind of in between, which worked out to be 3.5 inches from the bridge on a 35" scale (coincdentally, this is about the same ratio as a MusicMan). Something to keep in mind about using the single pickup is that there will be no phase cancellation effect as with dual pickups, which manifests itself as a scoop in the mid-frequencies, so you will get a sound that has lots of the middle frequencies. As a result, the nearer the pickup to the bridge, the more nasal the timbre. So if you're looking for the AJ sound, I'd probably try and duplicate the pickup placement as closely as possible.

    Another feature I stole was a set of RMC Pow'r bass piezo bridge saddles. These are the same ones used by AJ, Goines, Matthew Garrison. They are somewhat more expensive than some others you will find, but a lot of the others are of a generic brand that come with the bridge (allpart has several of these), and I couldn't find any information or find any to demo, so I figured I'd go with the relatively sure thing. I don't know much about the instrument into which AJ has had these installed, but if it is similarly passive, I'd say he uses an external preamp to blend the signals. I wound up using the RMC Hybrid model preamp, which is a tiny active preamp that blends the mag and piezo signals and gives you a low impedance output. Otherwise I would probably use a Bass Blender or something like that.

    I read that AJs most recent bass(es) are of a much shorter scale, perhaps less than 34", which seems to be popular now. I originally requested a 36" scale on this bass, but the builder didn't have a template for it. I've spent enough time playing 41.5" scale basses that 36 didn't seem like a concern, and I get to play an older model contrabass with 36" scale regularly with no problems, but I wound up hedging and getting 35. The difference between the 35 and 36 doesnt seem as profound as between 34 and 35, but logic tells me I am probably mistaken. On the other hand, we're talking about like a 3% difference. I have to be a little more careful about fingering in the low register, but I like the wider fret spacing above the 12th fret.

    As is made obvious by the fact that the basses a fellow like AJ uses have changed so much and yet you can still pick out his playing without any difficulty, it would be hard to make a case that by copying woods and electronics and such that you had any hope of duplicating someone's sound. I think a lot of people imagine that just by taking out all the electronics, a bass will suddenly sound "clear" and "bright" and just like AJ, only it wasn't so long ago that he was playing basses with electronics in them and the difference is subtle at best. You might be able to make a bass that looks just like someone elses or sounds vaguely similar when you just pluck a string, but 95% of that sound is coming from the mans hands, which are hard to get and even harder to integrate into your system :).

    Also, it would be kind of twisted to try and emulate someone too precisely by copying their stuff, but I think trying to be more like AJ is a reasonably noble goal, as he seems to be all about getting rid of unnecessary crap and concentrating on musicianship.

    That being said, I think if you're trying to capture the essence of the AJ sound, you really only need a couple of things. The first and foremost is playability arising from low action, neck stability, balance, and overall feel that facilitates the kind of technique that he has, and probably using a minimum of exotic woods and laminations. I don't know how much difference tone wise the alder body makes, but it definitely feels a lot different from my friends contrabass with maple body and ebony top. A guy like AJ may favor the lighter weight over whatever difference exists in sound, or maybe he likes the way the less dense body sounds. Hard to say but it can't hurt to copy :)

    Then, I would copy the pickup arrangement and placement as closely as possible. I had to do some really poor science with MS paintbrush to calculate it when I got mine. Also, I would not omit the piezos. On my bass the mix is about 60/40 in favor of the piezos and it produces a colossal and clear timbre. I see why those guys like these things so much. The tone of the piezos is very acoustic- it is like the difference between a solid body and an archtop electric guitar. It is not a modern slap tone, it is more elegant, for lack of a better word.

    Lastly, to sound like AJ on the albums, you will have to change your strings about a million times per album :)

    Oh, also I forgot to mention- Carey Nordstrand's abilities as a builder are monumental. Even among the new pack of young high end bass builders, this guy stands head and shoulders above. If you're looking to get an instrument built of the caliber of something an AJ or Lincoln Goines might play, this is your guy.
  8. As far as the scale length, I would do some research on it. George furlanetto builds the Fbass with 34.5" scale because he feels strongly about 35" scale choking the upper register notes. Longer scale will help the low notes be more clear so he split the difference and builds with 34.5" Perhaps you should consider a fanned fret design--33" on the C string side, 36 on the B string side.

    For the body cap, I've seen some really nice rosewood, burl walnut, redwood, bubinga and other beauties out there. It depends if you want more of a reddish or brownish color and how much detail in the wood you like.

    check out all your options carefully before deciding because unless you're made of money, you don't get to have custom basses built very often.
  9. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    I nowadays tend to spend more and more time at the Wal homepage... yes, it is a bad case of GAS...
    Anyway, as for the woods, here is what they say about it:

    Woods - Wal

    I am no expert, so this is a link to someone who is ;)
    There must be many more sites about this, but this is the one that I can remember right now... Good Luck!

    Oh and BTW I think you could make do with a 35" scale, too, and even that would get you less high-register notes - not to mention a 36... I play a 34" 6-string, and the highs for me are just fine, but the B is not as good
  10. jdombrow

    jdombrow Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    Colorado Springs, CO
    If you're going to order your first custom bass, be prepared to order a second (and third, etc...). It's not necessarily that once you have one you'll want more, but once you've tried one, you'll want to get another one because the first one wasn't really what you expected. I've had four basses built to my specs (a Carvin, an MTD 535 fretless, and two Roscoes). Each time I've ended up wishing for something that wasn't there (tonewise). You can read all you want, and solicit all the opinions in the world about which woods, or which pickups (or whatever), but the only way to be truly sure how a bass will sound is to play it before you buy it.

    This, of course, is my opinion (based on my experience). If you're going to spend significant money on an instrument, you might as well buy a plane ticket and go somewhere that you can play the bass.
  11. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    Why not keep some of those basses and then you would have a bass for each tone? ;) :D That is my aim: I currently have a Corvette 6 for growl, plan to get a custom Wal 6 for clarity (and some more slap) and a custom Streamer ST II 6 fretless for that organic growly mwah... well ok many other basses would fit in my list, too... :D
  12. temp5897

    temp5897 Guest

    Also, I believe AJ's presentations are chambered. Maybe just for the weight, I don't know.
  13. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    No i think it is rather for the tone. I dont know how exactly it will change the tone, but i know it does. There was a thread about some fretless chambered-body basses, and in the thread those who tried them commented that they were the closest to that uprightish sound
  14. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
  15. bassjigga


    Aug 6, 2003
    A lot of these design features are subjective so you can do whatever you want. Ash and alder are great body woods, I'd go with one of those with an exotic top. I'm wondering, why is it that you want a 36" scale? 35" is more than enough, and if a bass is built right that's not even really necessary. My 34" scale 5 string Zon sounds great, including the B. Anyway, Id go with 2 pickups, the single does make it simpler, but why not just have a blend or independent volumes so you can have 1, but if you want it the option is still there to have 2. Provides more versatility. Unless you know you're just never going to use a second pickup anyway. I don't think anyone commented on the bridge, but go with brass if you can. It adds great punch compared to aluminum or steel. Anyway those are my comments,

  16. newbass


    Mar 18, 2002
    Austin, Texas
    By the way, I'm not trying to emulate AJ and his tone precisely. I just like his set up, and I know that 95% of a player's tone comes from their skill as a musician. Now that I got that out of the way...I guess I want a 36" because I have heard that it adds clarity in the lows and doesn't hurt the upper register too much. I played a 35" Fodera (yes I know that my bass probably won't be quite that good, but...) that had excellent lows, but I felt that it would benefit even more from a little more length. Plus, I like the feel of a solid, large instrument (I know this doesn't matter, just personal preference)

    I'm starting to think that having alder or ash or something is good for the body, with either a figured koa, claro walnut, mahogany, or something like that, top.

    As far as pickups, bassjigga, I'm still undecided, but I've noticed that I hardly spend any time messing with my knobs and I don't understand why you would need so much variation in the pre-amp and the bass.

    Thanks again and keep'em coming.
  17. jdombrow

    jdombrow Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    Colorado Springs, CO
    It seems to me that if you're going to spend thousands of dollars for a custom bass, you should have a good idea of why you're choosing the various options.

    If you want to know why people choose alder vs. ash, read everything you can about it, and then go out and play a bunch of basses with alder and ash bodies. What do you hear? What appeals to you about the tone?

    Take the same approach with every item on the bass. If you start spending time on all the custom builder's websites, you'll get a good idea of what options you have, and who offers what. Some people offer a stock body and neck profile, and you get to choose the woods. Other builders will let you specify things such as neck width and profile, body style, etc.

    I spent about 6 months researching and playing every bass I could get my hands on before I ordered my first custom bass. So, take your time and make an informed decision.